Everyone huddles under the tents. It’s intermittently rainy; typical English picnic weather. The entertainer hired for the preschool’s end-of-year party brings out his props, including a large parachute, stitched in garish primary-colored panels. Maggie will have nothing to do with it. She won’t acknowledge the group; she runs in the opposite direction from the crowd, visibly distressed. We don’t force her. Her wishes are clear. With the rain, there’s really nowhere to go–nowhere to which she can escape. We leave early, confused and aching.
The high anxiety of these gatherings has lessened over the last year. Knowing more than we did, knowing more about how Maggie ticks, makes it possible for us to understand why certain situations are so difficult. We never forced her to stay somewhere that she was unhappy, but now with that understanding it makes it easier for us to see the sources of her anxiety. The flapping parachute, the screaming kids, the entertainer shouting instructions…it’s too much.
Today was the end-of-year party. The weather was glorious, Moira is mobile enough to enjoy the school playground, and with such perfect weather we knew there would be plenty of chances for her to find a comfortable spot to be alone without getting washed away in a Yorkshire downpour.
Same entertainer; this time he brought juggling implements. Maybe he did last year, but I know I wasn’t paying attention. They caught Maggie’s eye, and then he gathered the children around for games…with the parachute.
She stood. She inched closer. She examined. The entertainer told everyone to grab a handle and whip the fabric high.
I held my breath, and then, unable to hold back, said “Maggie, there’s an open handle there.”
Maggie drew up her shoulders, straightened her spine…and stepped forward to take the handle.
The entertainer counted off to three. She counted along. He called for the boys to run under. She waited and gleefully helped trap her mates under the parachute. He called for the girls to do the same.
Maggie ran into the scrum, giggling and shouting, and she danced.
She danced. In the middle of a mass of thrashing, squealing preschoolers under an ugly nylon net, she danced.
I found Tom and pointed to what I was seeing. He saw it too. And then I had to leave, because the lump in my throat had moved into my eyes and the threatened watershed could no longer be denied, and I cried in the bathroom alcove with the miniature toilets because I had just seen one of the bravest things I’ve ever seen in my life: a four-year-old girl deciding to step forward and be wrapped up in a parachute under a flaming July sun.
And then she danced.